The College Readiness Checklist for Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors

Preparing for college can seem even more confusing at a time like this when schools are practicing distance learning and you can’t visit a counselor in person. Luckily, there are plenty of online resources, including virtual meetings, virtual tours, and this college readiness checklist to help you prepare for the next chapter in your academic career.

When you have a plan in place, it can be easier to enjoy the journey so you know what you need to submit, what the deadlines are, and what documents you need to request (like recommendation letters from teachers or professors). We’ve sorted out all that with this college readiness checklist, starting the spring of your sophomore year.

College Readiness Checklist

Sophomore Year

PSAT / Pre-ACT

Get started with your college readiness checklist by taking the PSAT and/or Pre-ACT online. This can help you get a headstart on estimating your college readiness, get feedback on your knowledge, and browse scholarships early. 

Check with your high school to see if they offer the tests. You can likely take these tests in the Fall of your junior year due to COVID-19 circumstances. (Find answers to common College+COVID questions here.)

Research colleges online

Familiarize yourself with colleges you’re interested in. You can tour colleges online, browse academic majors and class size, and check out videos to get an idea of what each campus culture is like.

Talk to your parents about paying for college

Review the FAFSA4Caster with your parents for an early estimate of what your financial aid package might look like.

Draft your high school resume

Highlight your accomplishments, personally and academically, in your resume. When you’re ready, ask your guidance counselor to review your resume.

Line up your (online) summer plans

Colleges like to see that you’re using summers to grow and learn. In ordinary times, you could do this by working a job, getting an internship, taking summer classes, or going to summer camp. These are all experiences you can later put on your resume and write about in your personal statement. With COVID, consider how you might be able to build on your resume remotely–perhaps by taking online courses or applying for fully-remote internships to gain additional experience. 

Start earning money for college

A great way to begin saving for college is to apply for (and hopefully win!) scholarships. Begin by getting a personalized scholarship list with Going Merry

Download the full checklist here

College readiness checklist: sophomore year
Sophomore Year College Readiness Checklist (click to download)

Junior Year

Fall

Take your practice standardized test, and decide on SAT vs. ACT

You can take the PSAT in October. Decide which test highlights your strengths more: the SAT or the ACT. Also keep in mind that some schools won’t require test scores (known as test-optional), so you might have the option to choose “neither.”

Start searching for scholarships

You’re probably swamped with college prep already, but senior year is going to get even busier! Now’s the time to start applying for scholarships. (Check out this handy guide on how to use Going Merry to kick off your scholarship search.)

Stay involved, gain leadership

Look for leadership opportunities in your extracurricular, sports, or community service activities. If you haven’t joined any student clubs or organizations, now is the time to do so!

Evaluate post-secondary education options

Decide what type of school will be the best fit for you: vocational-technical school, career college, two-year community college, four-year university/college, or military college. Here’s a look at comparing big and small schools.

College Athletics (if applicable)

Start the certification process to play Division I or II sports in college. Ensure your courses meet NCAA curriculum requirements.

Winter

Register for the SAT/ACT and begin studying for it (if applicable)

Check with your counselor on how to request test fee waivers, and explore free practice tools here.

Explore SAT subject tests and AP tests

Review standardized tests, and then consider taking these in the spring when the material is fresh in your mind. 

Continue applying for scholarships

Scholarship deadlines run throughout the year, so there will still be opportunities to apply for awards.

Research college majors and careers

You can browse college majors online and start thinking about your career goals. Knowing what you want to study can help you choose the rest of your high school courses, what colleges to apply to, and write about your goals in scholarship essays.

Learn about colleges and their affordability

Research college websites, watch videos, and download (or request mailed) catalogs to get an idea of important factors in your college search. These resources can give you information on how much it will cost to attend, what the campus culture is like, class size, and extracurricular activities. You can also use Going Merry’s college comparison tool to help research affordability.

Spring 

Ask for letters of recommendation (LOR)

Most schools require letters of recommendation to apply–and it’s best practice to ask your recommenders at the end of junior year or the very beginning of senior year. Here’s a guide on deciding whom and how to request LORs.

Create a target college long-list

You’ve browsed the campus culture, made a list of potential colleges, and now it’s time to organize your target college list. Include a mix of reach, match, and safety schools. Use our handy template here.

Visit college campuses

Once the pandemic has subsided and you can visit your long-listed colleges’ campuses, this is a great way to get an in-person sense of the college “vibe.” Most schools will organize a tour for you (usually given by a student tour guide). You can also request an interview with an admissions member, which might give a leg-up come application time. 

Line up your summer plans

This might involve getting a job, an internship, taking a course, or attending summer camp. During COVID, you can look for alternative options, like taking accredited online courses to finish college early or learn something new this summer. Some companies also offer fully-remote internships. 

Apply for (more) scholarships

Need inspiration for writing your scholarship essays? Check out these winning essays, and then apply for scholarships yourself.

Schedule (or reschedule the SAT/ACT), if you’re taking it

Spring test dates have been cancelled due to COVID-19 circumstances. The next dates for the SAT are 6/6 and 8/29, while the next dates for the ACT are 6/13 and 7/18, to be completed online.

Download the full checklist here.

College readiness checklist: junior year
Junior Year College Readiness Checklist (click to download)

Summer

The summer between junior year and senior year is the time to hunker down with college testing and tuition funding opportunities.

Continue researching colleges

This year, walk through virtual tours (like YouVisit) and sign up for online information sessions to learn more about colleges that interest you. Some colleges are even making online interviews available with admissions officers, so you might be able to schedule an interview. Depending on how the coronavirus outbreak proceeds, you might also be able to visit some campuses in-person in late summer. 

Take the ACT/SAT

This is a great time to take the ACT and SAT tests (only  if you need to – some schools are currently test-optional) without the distractions of schoolwork. You’ll therefore have time to retake the tests in the Fall if you’re unhappy with your summer test scores.

Start your college app spreadsheet

Organize your application deadlines, questions and essay prompts, college costs, and average stats for admitted students. Also note any requirements for merit-based scholarships to give yourself clear goals for senior year. 

Draft your main college essay(s)

Brainstorming your first draft during the summer will set you up for success before senior year. Check out these college writing resources for more information.

Sign up for the FAFSA

The FAFSA opens in October, but over the summer, you can gather the necessary documents and register your FSA ID (username) and password.

Learn more about financial aid

Get up to speed on the financial aid process now, since you’ll be focused on college apps once senior year begins. Don’t forget to learn about your state aid applications (it’s not just FAFSA and done!), and make sure you turn in all the necessary documents by each deadline.

Continue applying for scholarships

If you haven’t signed up for Going Merry yet, sign up for your free student profile. You can browse, save, and apply for scholarships, all within one platform.

Research Military ROTC scholarships

If you’re interested in an ROTC scholarship, begin the process now.

Download the full checklist here

College readiness checklist: junior year summer
Junior Year Summer College Readiness Checklist (click to download)

Senior Year

Fall

Revisit standardized tests

Take or retake the SAT/ACT, or consider test-optional colleges.

Complete your financial aid forms

Apply for the FAFSA as soon as it opens in October, and consider applying for the CSS Profile if your college requires it. Remember to fill out your home state’s financial aid form, and apply early for external scholarships.

Apply early

Most early decision (ED) / early action (EA) deadlines are in November, so this is a good time to prioritize those applications. Keep in mind, UC and Cal State apps are due November 30 if you plan to attend one of those schools.

Winter

Apply for colleges regular decision

Most colleges have regular decision application deadlines on January 1, January 15, or March 1. Some schools also have rolling deadlines, so mark your calendar accordingly.

Keep an eye out for ED/EA applications

If you applied to colleges early action or early decision, you’ll likely receive your college admissions decision(s) and financial aid offer(s) in the mail by this time.

Spring

It’s your final semester, and now is when everything comes together! 

Check for your college acceptance letter(s)

Check the mail (and for some colleges, online) for your regular decision admissions and decide which college you’ll attend.

Provide additional documentation (if required)

Submit your final high school transcript and official test scores if necessary. Some colleges and/or financial aid providers will request your final transcript.

Evaluate your financial aid offer(s)

You should receive your offer letter(s) with your college acceptance letter(s). You’ll need to compare offers if you applied for multiple colleges. If the offers aren’t enough to cover tuition, then you may need to write a financial aid appeal letter to request additional financial aid.

Come up with a plan to cover financial gaps

Consider ways to help fill the gaps, such as a summer job, student loans, a work-study job, or additional scholarships.

Download the full checklist here

College readiness checklist: senior year
Senior Year College Readiness Checklist

Still have questions about your college readiness checklist?

We ran through planning three years of high school all the way up to college, so don’t sweat it – we’ve got you! You can review these additional resources from our blog:

When you’re ready, create your Going Merry student profile so you can jump-start your scholarship search during your junior and senior years. You can search for funding pertaining to your location, interests, and skills, including athletics, arts, merit, STEM, and more.

Ready to find scholarships that are a match for you?